Without doubt, spring is here. Violets are in bloom all over the lawns, and half a bushel of asparagus is hauled in every couple of days. Any ideas what to do with it?
I hear there are steamers and vertical cylinders and so on. Right now my go-to method involves a big flat pan with a tight lid. Line the spears up in there; cover barely, just barely, halfway with water; apply the lid; bring to a simmer. A dramatic color change will impress you: as soon as they heat up they turn very bright green. So stand right there and be ready to shut it all down and yank them out after about two minutes – before that bright green color begins to dull.
A particular flavor of early-season asparagus makes the trouble worthwhile. It tastes like fresh, raw, green peas. As long as it is not overcooked, that flavor will make it to the table, along with a tiny little bit of crunchiness, too.
Butter, salt, and pepper are the classic handling, I suppose, of a pile of asparagus on a dinner plate. Lately I have been favoring flavored vinegar as sole treatment.
In full summer, when volume of the herbs becomes impressive, put oregano in a bottle of elderberry vinegar, as above left. Or take up a mass of lovely, delicate green dill leaves and put them in white vinegar, as above right.
Yep, that greenery turns the vinegar golden yellow, or as such yellow is called, “histologist’s green.”
Asparagus-and-vinegar can be topped off with shaved Parmesan. Apply it quickly while the vegetable is still hot, so the Parmesan will melt.
Bon appétit! And may we know some other other asparagus methods favored by Ratbourgeois?
With warm weather finally settling in Poland, pilot Łukasz Czepiela decided to start off the season by the sea in style – by landing a plane on Sopot pier.
That is admirable brevity. I do also recommend the slide show.
Sopot, on the Baltic Sea between Gdynia and Gdansk, indeed has a very nice pier, which looks to be 1300-1400 feet in length.
So what sort of airplane is this, and also while we are at it, why would anyone ever eat blue cotton-candy? or any cotton-candy? Maybe the pilot did not eat it but just pretended, to demonstrate that he is so cool that cotton-candy could never in a million years detract from his coolness, he can so handle it. I hope so.
Do Ratburgers have other favorite airplane stunts? May we see?
Yesterday, by chance, reading involved two things: a chapter of history and a short story. Written by men living 2300 years apart, these describe the very same thing: the workings of the human heart, in particular at times of trial, and the results of those workings in terms of human suffering and survival. In the history, people lied to everyone about everything in an attempt to save their own skins, and failed, earning themselves sordid deaths. In the story, a man is led by his absolute devotion to truth at least to die with integrity after having behaved well.
Thucydides claims to have based his history on near reports, and to have fleshed it out with his own considered reconstructions of the speeches made by the great men on all sides during the Peloponnesian War. That’s fine; all well and good, but to read it is to scan multiple recursions of the same theme, here paraphrased:
The Plutonians sent forty ships to lay waste the lands of the Apricotians. The Apricotians did not submit, so the Plutonians slaughtered them all, burned the city, raised a trophy, and sailed home.
Then the reader arrives at Chapter X, “The Corcyrean Revolution,” to be startled awake on reading this:
The Corcyrean revolution began with the return of the prisoners taken in the sea-fights off Epidamnus . . . the accused, rendered desperate by law . . . banded together armed with daggers, and suddenly bursting into the senate killed Peithias and sixty others, senators and private persons . . .
After a day’s interval hostilities recommenced, victory remaining with the commons, [over the oligarchs] who had the advantage in numbers and position, the women also valiantly assisting them, pelting with tiles from the houses, and supporting the mêlée with a fortitude beyond their sex. Towards dusk, the oligarchs in full rout, fearing that the victorious commons might assault and carry the arsenal and put them to the sword, fired the houses round the market -place and the lodging-houses . . .
The Corcyreans, made aware of the approach of the Athenian fleet . . . slew such of their enemies as they laid hands on . . . Next they went to the sanctuary of Hera and persuaded about fifty men to take their trial, and condemned them all to death. The mass of the suppliants who had refused to do so, on seeing what was taking place, slew each other there in the consecrated ground; while some hanged themselves upon the trees, and others destroyed themselves as they were severally able. . . the Corcyreans were engaged in butchering those of their fellow-citizens whom they regarded as their enemies: and although the crime imputed was that of attempting to put down the democracy, some were slain also for private hatred, others by their debtors because of he monies owed to them. Death thus raged in every shape; and as usually happens at such times, there was no length to which violence did not go; sons were killed by their fathers, and suppliants dragged from the alter or slain upon it . . .
Now Thucydides moves from the particular to the general.
. . . struggles being everywhere made by the popular chiefs to bring in the Athenians, and by the oligarchs to introduce the Lacedaemonians. . . The sufferings which revolution entailed upon the cities were many and terrible, such as have occurred and always will occur, as long as the nature of mankind remains the same;
Too right, says the 20th-century reader, who now wonders if she is actually reading a news story:
. . . Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defense. The advocate of extrme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was t0 have a shrewd head, to divine a plot still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries.
Stephen Vincent Benét’s 1937 short story The Blood of the Martyrs concerns an apolitical scientific researcher and professor, imprisoned in “the castle” by the soldiers of “The Dictator.” The Professor dispassionately assesses the near likelihood of his execution. He does not betray his students, who apparently have been self-organizing into a force in opposition to The Dictator – but he does not articulate to himself why he does not betray them despite beatings and condemnation to death.
Only at the very end, when The Dictator personally demands, in exchange for his life on terms, that he lie about science – do State Science, speak in scientific language in service to the State – does the Professor make his refusal. He does not spell it out for himself in his mind; he simply recalls the faces of his students who came to him over the years for one thing: truth, and the pursuit of truth.
He paused again, seeing their faces before him. . . From all over the world they had come – they wore cheap overcoats, they were hungry for knowledge, they ate the bad, starchy food of the poor restaurants . . . a few were promising – all must be given the truth. It did not matter if they died, but they must be given the truth. Otherwise there could be no continuity and no science.
. . . not to tell lies to young men on one’s own subject. . . .They had given him their terrible confidence – not for love or kindness, but because they had found him honest. It was too late to change.
The Professor will not lie for the State, even to save his life. His death is sordid only externally; internally his integrity gives him calm. He dies thinking of the young men to whom he has not lied.
So, some will lie, and participate in lies, in an attempt to evade murder, or merely to advance themselves. Other will refuse to lie, because to lie would be to commit painful betrayal to the highest value. For Benét’s character, it is not a matter of anguished calculation or conjecture. It just is so. That is the source of his personal courage: faithfulness to what is so.
Southwest Utah is known for having, and showing plainly, strata from all geologic periods. Snow Canyon, ten miles northwest of St. George, is included in a state park featuring giant Navajo sandstone petrified dunes accented here and there with big messy piles of black volcanic rocks, all in a wide open valley with vistas and sunshine all day long. Looking north in late March:
A dune can be a quarter-mile long, hundreds of yards across, and a couple hundred yards high. Yet it is easy to climb, being nicely-ridged, hence providing good footing. No technical arts are necessarily required; just scramble up and look around many of them. Cloud shadows dramatize the hills across the valley floor:
The Snow Canyon dunes, like all the formations exposed in Utah, have one thing in common with snowflakes: no two are alike, as far as we know. Looking south from the top of a dune we see an outrageous formation:
John Wayne starred as Genghis Khan in an interesting-looking 1956 movie filmed in part in Snow Canyon. I’m sure the best scenes must have been shot there so I have put popcorn on the shopping list for when the library coughs up The Conqueror.
We merely climbed a handy dune and ate sandwiches under a brilliant blue sky with cool breezes caressing us from all directions, each originating in a hypnotizing vista. None of us had imagined anything like this fantastic and beautiful place.
What I am supposed to be doing is packing and otherwise preparing for the Left Coast Sojourn. But this I have in mind is more interesting. Hey, I checked the upcoming weather Utah and San Fran; I pulled out multiple clothing items and arranged them in various piles; I tried on bathing costumes in March in the Northern Hemisphere! All those today! So now I can do as I like for a while.
@Minus pecuniam nostram has of late stirred up conversations about personal “anger management.” On the very same day of one of those, by chance, I read the short story by Stephen Vincent Benét, The Devil and Daniel Webster. I recommend this story as example and standard of human anger management, with cosmic consequences. If it works for cosmic consequences, it can work for the more local and temporal, can it not?
Here is Daniel Webster, of New Hampshire:
And here is the man who painted that perfect portrait, Francis Alexander of Killingly, Connecticut:
Could either of these men beat the Devil in argument? Could Daniel Webster beat a jury of historical psychopaths in argument in the Devil’s court? Naturally they could. Their stories and Benét’s story will make all matters clear. Righteous passion has its place, and we are thankful beyond words for it when it fires up in the right people at the right time. Self-control and judicious advocacy for the right have their place also. Read for yourself and see if you are convinced.
I am going to San Francisco in a couple of weeks, to visit my two sons and my daughter-in-law. Yes! My darlings live and work in Calcutta-by-the-Bay. They have done so for a few years now, and this is my first visit. I’ll behave myself. May I call on you if I seem to be in danger of misbehaving?
We have plans! O, Ratty, as our WiseWoman says, would you care to comment on these plans? Your judgment and advice I prize most highly.
San Francisco Symphony and Chorus, at the Davies: Bach, the Passion of St. John. I’m studying up and listening to it ahead of time. Listening to music is a skill that I have let slide over the years; clawing back some of it is an arduous but worthwhile project. I bought one of those miniature scores and a yuppie-style travel vest in which to stow it. We will see how that works out! I am also reading up KJV, always a good thing, even though Bach obviously lived some other version. In the beginning was the Word . . .
Legion of Honor Museum with all the Rodin sculptures and European paintings. As I ‘splained to the offspring, I have superior museum stamina, ergo the fact that I have no Smartphone and must be escorted everywhere shall be offset by the fact that they can drop me off there in the morning and forget about me until late afternoon, when it shall be time for rendez-vous for the Saturday organ concert.
Twilight Cruise of San Francisco Bay which unfortunately includes a nighttime tour of Alcatraz prison. Oh, dear. I lived in real time through the “occupation” by “Native Americans.” However! I plan to behave myself when on the spot at the time.
Tour the Hornet! They claim to offer special tours behind the scenes, conducted by Navy veterans. I would love to clamber all around to torpedo rooms and suchlike; I hope that works out. Anybody done one of those?
Visit the Liberty ship S.S. O’Brien. No cruise scheduled while I shall be there; what were they thinking? Any road, it is a Liberty ship not done over to anything else. That makes it attractive to me.
17-mile drive, although Jimmy Stewart will not be available to drive me around. I will just have to make do.
Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s only a little over a mile. We will see what sort of weather we have. But really, how could I cross the continent and not walk across the Golden Gate Bridge? My ancestors crossed the Atlantic Ocean, not too comfortably, took the Erie Canal in little canal boats with not a lot of amenities, and once they reached Buffalo they sure did a lot of walking. So I should demur? or squawk?
Can I take on commissions for any of you? Some San Francisco artifact to acquire? Gladly would I take on such a commission.
Your counsel is, as ever, precious to me. Gratias tibi ago omnia.
Do you wake up some mornings knowing that you have to have cooked carrots that day?
When that happens, one must act. Drag out a pot and a tightly-fitting lid. While the pot preheats on the stovetop at low heat, trim the bacon.
This bacon is made with no sugar: it is smoked, but not cured. I asked the local butcher; before too long he had a nice supply in his meat case. We like it for the flavor, because it is the flavor of the bacon, not breakfast cereal, and for the fact that it never leaves burned sugar in the bottom of a pan.
The bacon gets trimmed around here because the cook dislikes the heaviness of bacon fat, preferring lighter fats such as butter, chicken or goose fat, or olive oil. This trimming is fun to do with a boning knife. Here are three:
They are all 10-inch boning knives, but each is different. Cooking is like anything else, in that you try out different tools, methods, and effects, to discover that you have preferences. Here the top knife has a stout, thick blade; a big handle, clunky for me but comfortable for a man; and that big stop going down from the forward edge of the handle. That one is perfect for removing a hide, disjointing a carcass, or deboning a large roast. That is wonderful, but not what we seek this day.
The bottom one is excessively recurved. The carbon-steel blade has been sharpened so much that it has become shorter, back-to-cutting edge. The ratio of that height dimension to blade length is off-target for use in my hands. Were I six inches taller, my arm would be more straight as I stood at my workspace, and so I could wield the thing properly. But I’m not, so I just lend it out to the taller cooks, and otherwise keep it around out of respect for its years of service to our family.
The middle one is just right: the blade is recurved just enough to be useful and thick enough not to waver. The handle fits my hand. The weight and balance are just right. It’s like fitting a sword, but more practical these days. So my general advice is to try various examples of the necessary tools and trust your own assessment of their fitness for you.
Add some butter to that pan on the stove so that it will melt while the bacon is cut to small pieces. Yep, we are going to cook bacon in butter on low heat.
A “French cook knife” is most satisfactory for this bacon-cutting, as the cutting edge is convex. You can rock it back and forth, with one hand on the handle and the other flat on the back of the blade. But that is only when you are not holding a camera at the same time.
There, I’ve just used the back of the knife blade to shove the bacon off into the pan. The bits will separate when stirred around.
At no time do we make bacon “crisp” in this kitchen. When in your own kitchen, do just as you like, but for authentic Kelsay Carrots keep the bacon cooked, but soft.
Cut up some onion next. You need one of those thin-bladed Oriental slicing knives with a straight cutting edge.
A knife like this can slice beef so thin as to be translucent. We can achieve thin slices of onion which will cook through quickly and curl nicely around the carrot chunks.
Do you have an in-law who tells you that you must cut up an onion along some x-axis, then some y-axis, then some z-axis, in that order? My sympathies. Pay no attention. It’s your onion.
Boldly take up your French cook knife and cut up the carrots however you darn please. Now attend: when you have added them to the pot and stirred things around, you may not then leave. To soften these carrots, you need liquid. A little water, a little white wine, or a little broth will do the trick in just a few minutes. Today I have some pork broth handy, so I add enough to cover the carrots halfway, no more. We are not doing soup here.
Put the lid on to fit tightly. Search around for the final ingredient: either sour cream, crème fraîche, or cream. Now learn this the easy way: crème fraîche is resistant to curdling under heat; cream and sour cream comparatively susceptible. For any of them, a minute or two to heat through is all that is needed. If you are using cream or sour cream, wait for the last minute to make the addition.
Now, when is the last minute? The last minute is when the carrots are just soft enough to be nice; you might say al dente. Stand facing the stove, lift off the lid, and stick a fork into a carrot. We need fear no Banshee Beep of Cardiac Arrest to tell us when to proceed to the final addition.
Just a minute or two, now. That’s all that is needed. There:
The plain nature of cold sliced roast beef complements the complexity of Kelsay Carrots at supper. A green vegetable laced with herb vinegar will complement the color and the richness of these carrots. Enjoy the contrasts. Bon appétit! Smacznego! Don’t put your knives in the dishwasher.
The stages of development of spousal love are described in our literature, sometimes one stage at a time, sometimes in consideration of all the stages.
Andrew Klavan, who does not join us here and is therefore ultimately foolish, made in a recent podcast a wise recommendation on this subject. He recommended the poem Wordsworth wrote about his own spouse: She was a phantom of delight.It recounts the progression of the poet’s understanding of his lady, from initial sensory impact, to appreciation of manners, ultimately to respect for her transcendent humanity: a Being breathing thoughtful breath.
In a similar vein is a poem that starts off Love is waiting . . .
It does not mean Love is waiting for you, or any such stuff. It means that loving constitutes waiting. Look; you will see.
Jest czekaniem na niebieski mrok na zieloność traw na piesczczotę rzęs.
for the blue dusk
for the green grass
for the embrace of eyelids.
(As the Italians say: amore fulmineo! thunderbolt love!)
But we continue:
na kroki szelesty listy na pukanie do drzwi
for the knock on the door
na sełnienie trwanie zrozumienie
na potwierdzenie na kryzk protestu
for cry of protest
(Mutual trust gives us the freedom to be mutually, and non-fatally, candid.)
na koniec świata
for the end of the world
(And so we can be constant through the life we are given.)
The poet is Małgorzata Hillar (1930-1995.) The translator is Morosław Lipiński. My editorial interruptions are in parentheses. Nice clean layout is here or here.
In the Hippolytus of Euripides, matters proceed as the usual unstoppable train-wreck: swiftly at times and slowly at other times; hopeful for a few moments but dreadful mostly. Goddess makes Queen fall in love with own stepson; Queen tries to shake it off, but fails; humans and deities all clamor about, baffling progress and escalating strife; Queen starts gearing up to do something not only stupid but also evil; Chorus gets a whiff of it and just wishes to get the heck out of there.
Here is Gilbert Murray’s translation of the Chorus as they fantasize escape destinations: a cave, a cloud, the beach, a riverbank, and then hit on the ideal place: the Garden of the Hesperides, of course.
Could I take me to some cavern for mine hiding, In the hill-tops where the Sun scarce hath trod; Or a cloud make the home of mine abiding, As a bird among the bird-droves of God! Could I wing me to my rest amid the roar
Of the deep Adriatic on the shore, Where the waters of Eridanus are clear, And Phaëthon’s sad sisters by his grave Weep into the river, and each tear Gleams, a drop of amber, in the wave.
To the Strand of the Daughters of the Sunset, The Apple-tree, the singing, and the gold; Where the Mariner must stay him from his onset, And the red wave is tranquil as of old; Yea, beyond that Pillar of the End That Atlas guarded, would I wend; Where a voice of living waters never ceaseth In God’s quiet garden by the sea, And Earth, the ancient life-giver, increaseth Joy among the meadows, like a tree.
(The Mariner must stay him from his onset because past Gibraltar is the Atlantic Ocean, where it is rare to sail and survive.)
Men dream of place of rest and escape from strife. Sometimes they do so to survive, as for example a prisoner in a place of death, closing his eyes for an interior playing of some Beethoven or Brahms, of which he knows every note because he performed in the symphony orchestra before his arrest.
Sometimes they do so to keep up their own courage as they act as they can within the strife to fight the bad guys. Hippolytus came up in the course of Rosemary Sutcliff’s Eagle of the Ninth trilogy of young-adult historical novels, of which I was reading the second while comfortably tucked into my electric lap robe the other day. In The Silver Branch, Allectus has murdered Carausius, Emperor of Britain in the 290s, and usurped his throne. Legionaries and former legionaries and their friends who disapprove of the murder form a covert network to smuggle men over to Gaul to join the ranks of Constantius there. The leader of this network keeps an apple tree, the best little apple-tree in all Britain, in his closed courtyard, to remind him of the place, or the existence, of rest and peace. He will not enjoy either until justice is reestablished, so he continues with his work. He hides a couple of young soldiers in his attic and lends them his copy of Hippolytus to read, so that they can dream of the apple-tree, the singing, and the gold.
But then there are those who think of this place as an escape from responsibility. Galsworthy, in The Apple Tree, conjured up a character who used an innocent young woman that way on a trip through the countryside. The grander-scale utopians conceive an idea for public policy, call it good, urge everyone to support it, and care not how many bodies they have to trample in order to make their way toward it. Every day these people are in the news. The Garden has different guises: a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, a World Without Countries, the Family of New York. But I doubt that the people urging their countrymen to such places truly believe the places exist. It is more likely that most of them see human problems and react in one, or both, of two ways. Either they figure out a con game by which to profit from the strife, or they just make noise about their Garden in order to avoid their responsibility actually to try to assist the people whom they see are having trouble. That being the case, as I think it is, it is a grave error in public discourse to cede to them a single atom of benevolent intent.
Here is Gilbert Murray (1866-1957) – bless his heart. If you decide you need to read one of the plays, go for one of his translations, I say. He will give you beauty.
Here is Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992) who as a child invalid found her Garden of the Hesperides in the history and literature of the Classical West and of England. She found, and she made for us, beauty and joy and hope.
Framed by enemies, this prisoner at risk of execution wrote thus:
Oh Fortune, thy wresting wavering state
Hath fraught with cares my troubled wit,
Whose witness this present prison late
Could bear, where once was joy’s loan quit.
Thou causedst the guilty to be loosed
From bands where innocents were inclosed,
And caused the guiltless to be reserved,
And freed those that death had well deserved.
But all herein can be nothing wrought,
So God send to my foes all they have thought.
Elizabeth I, from the Tower of London, 1554 or 1555
When we consider her case, we surely must conclude that for us, all is not necessarily lost.
It has taken several months, but I’ve now checked most of the books around here for good bookplates. This one takes the prize.
Fred and Emilie were “my kind of folk;” I want to be in that rocker by that fire, with them for company, whoever they are or were. I like the brick apron in front of the fireplace, too; the small fire-place that surely is a Rumford that throws the heat out into the room; the massive chimney that stores the heat; the brass dogs and set of tools.
Who built the house? Who picked out, dragged home, split, fit, and finished that log for the mantel? Just think: you could grab ahold of one of those home-fashioned corbels while leaning over to stir the fire and at the same time enjoy the classical-Roman look of that big finial, or cap, on the fire-box. That finial looks slotted, as though designed to let more warmth into the room from the back of the fire-box. Think that’s what it is?
And is that a globe on the mantel? It bears a design that might be North and South America. It looks a bit smushy, though, up there in the shadows. Think that is an artifact of the woodcut technique?
The bookshelves sag to one side, and Fred and Em would certainly have more volumes spilling out all over, including lying horizontally on top of the others, not just to keep them off the floor but also to keep things organized by subject. And they would want them handy to the fireplace and the rocker. What are they reading tonight?
This 1904 true-life thriller has for complete title Pathfinders of the West, Being the Thrilling Story of the Adventures of the Men Who Discovered the Great Northwest: Radisson, La Vérendrye, Lewis and Clark. So of course it starts off with the fur country: trees, wolf-howls through crystal skies, sleds and sled dogs, and lots of snow and ice! We need blankets for our rocking chairs. You just sit right there, honey, I’ll throw on another log.
I don’t know who Roger Hirsch is or was, but I love him just the same. Look at the bookplate he chose for his copy of the Modern Library’s Sixteen Famous British Plays! I hope he read plays aloud at home, and with friends.
The spectacular hat of this dwarf I suspect has two horns, like a jester hat. What think you? The book under his arm has those plates at the corners, bison leather or metal, and a cover that looks like deeply-embossed leather or maybe wood. What is he reading? Every thing about him is just as gnomish as it ought to be, with pebbles underfoot, mushrooms sprouting up, gnarled trees; patches on his clothes, – and reading glasses!?!
And then the frame has the most wonderful creatures all haloed about with vines! Up top we have Chuck and Nancy, then a bear, a rooster, a reindeer or some such, a giraffe, some kind of bird (those who can see birds, please identify it,) a superlative ram, another bird (mayhap a heron?) a leaping rabbit, and a woodpecker. Our cares amount to nothing when there are such books to be read and such friends to be met.
This is not a bookplate at all, but a painting by Heinrich Schlitt (fl. 1870s.) It is Gnom mit Zeitung und Tabakspfeife (Gnome with Newspaper and Tobacco Pipe.) The gnome is sitting under a mushroom and looking up at a jar, and in the jar is a frog. What this means I leave for you to determine. Stare into the lovely warming flames of the fire and figure it out.
Those blue flowers on the left we have around here; we call them Bluebells of Scotland. If spring comes, they will start up again at the front of the house.
Christmas 1898 – Aunt Rimmie to Leon H. Teitenberg. Why, thank you, Aunt Rimmie! The Treasure of the Seas is the perfect gift for a lion-hearted lad in 1893. Check the first part of the Table of Contents:
A Mast in Mid-ocean! Buccaneers! Spanish Galleon! Leon, your friends will want to borrow this book. You had better put a bookplate in it. Oh, look, so he did:
Previous posts on bookplates are here and then again here. Are there more favorite specimens out there in Ratburgia?
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me A partridge in a pear tree.
The reference is to the Incarnation as ultimate expression of Divine love for man.
Additionally, we apply this idea to the conduct of our own lives, as, for example, when we ask What is the most important thing in this situation? What is the proper ultimate expression?
A child is in distress, more deeply than we had thought. The trouble is harder for the child to bear than we had thought. How, specifically, do we help our child? We consider and offer this advice, that advice; this assurance, that assurance; this bit of wisdom from our experience, that bit; this way toward confident, detached, assessment, and that way.
But after all of that, all of that particular that, what remains, what must remain, as the single most important thing?
We walked up the road on the morning of the first day of Christmas, looked across the hills to the Green Mountains of Vermont, and I asked myself an urgent question:
What is the most important thing for this child to know and never forget?
Remember, you are loved.
O Ratty, as our Magistra says, please help me out here, to remember something. There is a short story. In this story an explorer is in trouble on some planet, some moon, some space station, or suchlike. Communications with the home planet are horribly impaired for some reason – technical impairment due to some traumatic disaster as yet poorly understood.
The dudes on the ground have been sending out various signals in coded jargon, to no avail. The author dilates on their sorrow and frustration. Finally the astronaut’s Mom steps up and informs them that the thing to do is to transmit one very simple and unambiguous message, one that technical glitches cannot ever scramble, and to repeat it without limit until it is caught. They obey her. The message is:
I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you . . .
So, Ratty. Who wrote that story, please, and what is the title?
Those who value cultural conservatism are made happy when agreeable ideas flow through the mind of a favorite character, straight off on the first page of the 18th book of her series. Mma Ramotswe, founder and proprietress of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, thinks about these ideas at first in terms of clothes:
. . . -but she was never keen to pay one hundred pula for something that could be obtained elsewhere for eighty pula, or to get rid of any item that, although getting on a bit, still served its purpose well enough. And that, she thought, was the most important consideration of all – whether something worked. . . She also felt that if something was doing its job then you should hold on to it and cherish it, rather than discarding it in favor of something new. Her white van, for instance, was now rather old and inclined to rattle, but it never failed to start -except after a rain storm, which was rare enough in a dry country like Botswana – and it got her from place to place – except when she ran out of fuel, or when it broke down, which it did from time to time, but not too often.
Her author, Alexander McCall Smith, then makes one of his transitions between internal monologue and direct speech in dialogue, of the sort and of the, well, beauty of which he is seemingly effortless master, in the manner of Austen. She converses with her husband on the question of replacing his worn-out work boots. Anybody who has had a husband knows how that conversation goes.
When the story has got going and the problems presented, Mma Ramotswe thinks while driving to a distant appointment in her faithful van:
. . . that men should let ladies sit down if there are not enough chairs to go round and that they, the men, should stand – well, who would disagree with that? To the surprise of both Mma Ramotswe and Mma Potokwane, it appeared that there were people who felt that this was an old-fashioned way of behaving and that if a man reached the chair first he should sit down, even if a woman ended up standing. These people argued that offering a lady a chair implied that she was weak and that men and women should be treated differently. Well, said both Mma Ramotswe and Mma Potokwane, of course women should be treated differently. Of course they should be treated with respect and consideration and given the credit for all the hard work they did in the home, looking after children (and men), and in the workplace too. Offering a lady a chair was one way of showing that this work was appreciated, and that strength and brute force – at which men generally tended to excel – was not the only thing that counted. Respect for ladies tamed men, and there were many men who were sorely in need of taming; that was well known, said Mma Ramotswe.
The gentleness of the exposition of these ideas arises from its context in beautiful Botswana, beautiful Botswana cattle, and the old Botswana morality. That context plucks the heartstrings of millions of readers around the world who had never heard of the place. That’s encouraging, I think.
There are bad people in the stories who do wicked things; nobody is walking around with eyes closed here. The particular style in which the just are shown to pursue the wicked and make judgments about how to handle various problems is a reassuring, soothing style. There a times a reader wants a techno-thriller or a series of nice medieval battle scenes. Then there are those times when a Mma Ramotswe story is just what is needed. Thank goodness the author keeps rolling them out.
McCall Smith was born in Rhodesia, spent a great deal of his boyhood in Botswana, studied law in Edinburgh, co-founded the law school in Botswana, and specialized in medical law and medical ethics.
Poles are among those following the protests, riots, and police in action in France, and retweeting film clips made on the scene. One such is “Based Poland.”
I thought to copy and paste the URL to a particular tweet containing video of ranks of kneeling high-school students in a police enclosure. This is my first attempt at this move; apologies if it fails. The Preview includes the URL.
(Had I chosen “Embed this Tweet,” instead of “Copy the URL,” would I then have had to switch to Text Mode?)
#Macron's police with some harsh treatment against High School students demonstrating against his rule in the #GiletsJaunes protests
They kept off the short showers from their lodgings, but the long rains penetrated through to their disturbance in the night season, yet in those poor wigwams they sang Psalms, praise and pray their God till they can provide them homes which ordinarily was not wont to be with many till the earth by the Lord’s blessing brought forth bread to feed them, their wives and little ones.
So we infer that the food situation was pretty serious at the start. The “groaning board” was in the future with the post-and-beam, blockhouse-like house. Dow explains some of what they had.
In the early days baked pumpkin and milk was a favorite dish. A hard-shelled pumpkin had a hole cut in the stem end large enogh to admit the hand. The seeds and inside tissue were carefully removed, the piece cut out was replaced, and the pumpkin was then put in a hot oven. When cooked it was filled with new milk and the contents eaten with a spoon.
This jingle is often reprinted and dated about 1630. Can anybody find the original source? It eludes me.
For pottage and puddings and custard and pies Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies.
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon:
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoone.
They did constrain themselves to two meals a day, in that time and place.
Dow quotes a Dorchester inhabitant:
It was not accounted a strange thing in those days to drink water, and to eat Samp or Homine [cornmeal mush or hominy] without Butter or Milk. Indeed it would have been a strange thing to see a piece of Roast Beef, Mutton or Veal; though it was not long before there was Roast Goat. After the first Winter, we were very Healthy: though some of us had no great Store of Corn. The Indians did sometimes bring Corn, and Trade with us for Clothing and Knives; and once I had a Peck of Corn, or there abouts for a little Puppy-Dog. Frost-fish, Muscles and Clams were a Relief to Many.
Dow goes back to Edward Johnson for a description of how when winter came they were
. . . forced to cut their bread thin for a long season.
. . . Let no man make a jest at Pumpkins, for with this fruit the Lord was pleased to feed his people to their good content, till Corne and Cattell were increased.
After a decade or two of this, the colonists enjoyed
. . . apples, pears and quince tarts instead of their former Pumpkin Pies . . .
Dow himself adds that by that time wheat bread was no dainty.
This is all making me more appreciative, compared to my undistinguished norm. Around here the Estate Farm Manager just butchered a nice steer, so my only problems are going to involve wrapping giant roasts, staggering with heavy boxes of steaks to the freezers, and choosing bourbon or maple syrup for the pumpkin pies. I shall have to make it a point to think back to those colonials in their English Wigwams. They made all their efforts for their own reasons, but I thank them anyway.